EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – For countries that share a common border, the United States, Canada and Mexico could do a better job communicating with each other, regional experts said.

Gaps were laid bare by partial border closures during the COVID-19 pandemic and by ongoing security issues, said panelists at a Sister Cities International online forum Wednesday.

“We started getting calls the first two weeks after we very abruptly went to essential industry only. But we had different definitions of which industry was essential,” said former U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Christopher Landau. “Companies were saying, ‘We’re allowed to open in (the United States) but we rely on components from Mexico. We’re going to have to shut down because we only have components for the next four days.’”

Poor communication isn’t exclusive to governments; the panel found residents of states bordering Mexico or Mexican cities bordering the U.S. often fail to tell their leaders how they’re being affected by international crises.

Christopher Landau

“When you guys at the local level are feeling the impact – whether it’s trade restrictions, migration or any kind of issue that comes up – let your voices be heard. Squawk as loudly as you can. That’s the way it works in a democracy,” Landau said.

He talked about seeing retail stores in U.S. border cities shut down due to the loss of customers from Mexico and traffic at ports of entry suffering hours-long delays for many months. Yet he and other federal officials failed to hear from border residents.

“If I’m getting frantic calls from the mayor of El Paso or Nogales, I can call up the State Department, I can call (Homeland Security). But if I don’t know about the problem, I can’t be an effective advocate,” said Landau, who was ambassador from 2019 to 2021.

In Mexico, conversations need to take place when it comes to illegal drugs and migration, said Enrique Perret, director of the U.S-Mexico Foundation.

“We need to reach an agreement on labor mobility – on temporary workers – because migration is becoming bigger and bigger every day,” Perret said. “We need an agreement because the scarcity of workers in the United States is huge.”

Enrique Perret

He talked about the need for federal governments to better communicate with city leaders so, for instance, they can be better prepared for the arrival of large numbers of foreign workers.

“And, obviously, fentanyl and other (crime issues) are putting us on the spot and we need to do something on security. We need coordination on security,” Perret said.

He and Landau also called for North American leaders to better communicate the benefits of international trade agreements to their citizens. The reason for that is the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, which went into effect on July 2020, must undergo a “joint review” in 2026.

“After (the North American Free Trade Agreement) in 1994, we took it for granted and didn’t communicate to the grassroots the benefits of trade. Now we’re struggling to educate the public on why we need this (USMCA), why Mexico is relevant to the supply chain, the quality, price and diversity of products,” Perret said.

He estimates only half the people in Mexico and in the U.S. see the trade treaty in a good light.

Landau urged North American industry leaders to not only communicate the benefits of such agreements, but also to show results. Re-shoring industry suppliers from China would be a start.

“There’s been a lot of talk on that, but I want to see some action. I worry if all people do is talk, when it comes time to look at the USMCA in a couple of years, people are going to ask, ‘why should be do this?’ There’s gotta be benefits we can show,” he said.